Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Christmas

"At Midnight Still"

Luke 2:8-12

When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. Thus begins the prayers for Christmas Eve. Have you ever worked the graveyard shift? Nurses are on duty. The deputies are on patrol. Emergency workers are on alert. The insomniacs are restless.

Then, there were the shepherds. Theirs was hardly a glamorous or prestigious job. They had to stay awake for the sake of the sheep ready to defend them from predators. Nightly, they endured hours of boredom with an occasional adrenalin rush to protect the sheep. So it was on that night of the holy nativity. The shepherds were on guard while trying to stay awake and keep warm in the chill of the night.

And suddenly in the least expected way, the Savior's birth is announced. Luke 2:8-12 (KJV) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

This would be a night unlike any other. One moment the shepherds are in the midst of their monotonous routine and the next, well the next is truly out of this world. Glory. These humble men are enveloped in the glory of heaven. Glory. This is no soft, beckoning light. Glory. Here is the brilliance of the divine, light more blinding than a collection of suns. They are simply terrified. This is the natural reaction of the sinful with the holy. "No one can stand in the presence of God and live."

Out of the brilliance speaks the voice, "fear not." Say what? "Don't be afraid." These are both calming and necessary words. If the shepherds remain in their terrorized state, they won't hear the wonderful message. Don't be afraid. Good news isn't terrifying. Relax. Listen. "Unto you is born the Savior, the promised Messiah. It's just happened in Bethlehem. Go. Check it out. And, by the way He's in a stable."

The shepherds' terror turned to joy. They gathered their wits. They left their sheep. After they paid homage to the Child, they told everyone they saw of all the things they'd heard and seen. Their joy was contagious.

Luke 2:17-20. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Here we have the first telling of the Good News. From heaven above came the Incarnate Lord. Jesus the Savior came in the humility of the stable. In the great reversal, the omnipotent God was found in the form of a helpless infant. The people who encountered the shepherds must have wondered about their strange story. Since the shepherds were of no social status, people wondered about the truthfulness of their claims.

From heaven above to the ends of the earth. Beginning with the shepherds, the Christmas gospel is being read throughout the world. From the arctic north to the hot deserts and jungles of the global south the story is being repeated in hundreds of different languages. This one on one, person to person sharing of the good news from the shepherds has been repeated through the generations.

How else would they Good News be spread abroad? No, Mary didn't have a cell phone to take a selfie of her and the baby. There was no instant communication as there is today. Yet, the word got out. The shepherds told everyone they met of all the wonderful things they had heard and seen. The Magi came from afar bearing wonderful gifts. The news traveled and continues to travel to the ends of the earth.

Throughout the generations, people have heard the story of the shepherds. Today, once again, we hear the familiar words of the Christmas narrative. Like those whom the shepherds encountered, we have a mixture of wonder, awe, questions and hope. We have heard. We believe the message of the angels and the testimony of the shepherds.

As with the shepherds, we find these wonderful mountain top experiences are all too brief. Life returns to normal. After they paid homage to the holy child, the shepherds went back to work. Like the shepherds, our tomorrow is another day. We, too, will return to work and the ordinary routines of our lives. Yet, like the shepherds, we also will cherish the hope and joy of Christmas. God has kept His promises to His creation. In love, He sent us Jesus, our Immanuel, God with us.

As we hear the familiar words of Luke, the awe and marvel of that holy night remain with us. For the shepherds an ordinary night watching sheep became something, oh, so, different. For it would be unlike any other. Into the darkness of the human condition the Light of Christ has come. The Light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel was introduced to His people. The angels sang their Gloria in Excelsis! On this holy night we rejoice with the shepherds as we once again hear the message of His birth.

In due time, the rough wood of the manger would be exchanged for the rougher, harshness of the cross. But on that holy night only love and peace prevailed as the Gift of the Father is unwrapped to His creation. When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. Blessed Christmas. Amen.


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